30 May 2024 | Clubs and Facilities |

Feature: Numbers game for Sunshine Coast golf

by Martin Blake

Sunshine Coast golf image
Caloundra Golf Club is one of many who are at capacity in 2024.

Golf is flying on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, and the daily dive for tee times is only going to get more entertaining with projections of much bigger population increases over the next 15 to 20 years.

Clubs are feeling the squeeze already, not that they are complaining.

Let’s call it a good problem to have for Australian golf.

The region’s population has already risen 30 percent in the past 10 years, and population is projected to soar past 500,000 by 2040.

As Andrew Leventis, Golf Australia’s Clubs and Facilities Manager (North), explains, thousands of emigres from Victoria and New South Wales in particular are heading to the coast every year, many of them keen golfers.

“At a recent district meeting it was discussed amongst the managers present, that many were fielding enquiries from golfers moving to the Sunshine Coast with the impression they should be able to obtain a membership at any course of their choice”.

At three clubs on the Sunshine Coast that we spoke to this week, there are long waiting lists.

Speaking at a Golf Management Australia (GMA) meeting last week, the general managers of the three clubs all agreed that if they took the waiting lists of their clubs and combined them, they could create a membership for a whole new club.

Upgrades to the golf course at Maleny have helped, but Pelican Waters has been closed for renovations for long periods in recent times.

At Caloundra Golf Club, the waiting list is around 280 and people on that list are being told that they may not get through until 2027.

General Manager Jason Looker said five minutes before Golf Australia’s phone call this week, the club took another inquiry from an interstate golfer looking to join.

Caloundra is doing 1000 competition rounds a week and above 40,000 a year with about 1070 members. On Saturdays the 256 playing spots will be close to filled.

“It’s incredible,” says Looker, who has been around golf since the 1990s and has not seen anything like it. “Not even close. The last boom, around the 1990s, Caloundra had 1100 members. It dropped away in the 2000s as it did across the country, and we got back down to 850 members.

“They took 1100 members back then because they were here, but not everyone played, which we’re mindful of. We make sure that everyone gets a game.”

Looker says Covid has been the trigger. When Queensland’s borders opened in December 2021 after lockdowns, membership spiked and two weeks later, the club closed its books and started a waiting list.

“We have to manage it and manage expectations,” he said. “People are just taken aback when you say 2027. Because if they’d come two years ago, they would’ve just walked in the door.”

Leventis said this growth in popularity is being experienced across the country with golf recording its fourth consecutive year of participation growth.

“A staggering 3.5 million Australians played some form of golf in the 2022/23 calendar year and Maroochy River reflects the popularity of the new formats of golf that are attracting all age groups and have turned clubs into a social hub for communities.”

Maroochy River is a progressive club just outside Maroochydore that has fared well in recent years for some brave decisions.

It has 450 on the waiting list and general manager Nigel Gibson concedes that some of those could take up to 10 years to advance to full membership.

At Maroochy, they are working on a solution to the issue going forward, using 30 hectares of spare land on its property. Collaborating with the architect Darius Oliver, the club is mapping out a new executive course plus a nine-hole par-3 course which if it gets approval, will be under lights.

The plan still needs members’ acquiescence, but the board sees Maroochy River in the future being a facility that caters for everyone on the golf spectrum, from beginners to regular players to older people looking to scale back.

“It’s a different model, that keeps your membership fees down and have enough revenue streams coming from various streams like mini golf, food, and beverage… We’re lucky. Not too many people have a blank canvas to work from and that’s what the club’s had here.

“These two courses, I think, will make it something that’s not seen anywhere else in Australia.”

At Headland Golf Club in Buderim, general manager Tim Gahan is another in the industry who believes that the Sunshine Coast could do with more golf facilities.

Certainly, Headland is at capacity with membership capped at 1000 along with around 70 people on a restricted membership awaiting full membership and a total 240 on the waiting list.

“We’re doing 72,000 to 75,000 rounds a year and we don’t want to do more. To be honest, I’d like to do less,” said Gahan.

Gahan said it was important to get the message out to people thinking of relocating to the Sunshine Coast that they need to act quickly. At Headlands, it is taking waiting list candidates about three years to get full membership.

While not all clubs on the Sunshine Coast are not operating at full capacity, the predicted population boom will likely see increased pressure placed on all membership lists.

“Half of all adult Australians have indicated an interest in playing some form of the game in the next 12 months,” said Leventis. “The innovation in the game is attracting a whole new demographic that is feeding through to traditional clubs. Golf Australia is actively working with clubs to broaden their offering and keep up with demand.”

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